The UC system's own numbers suggest 4 out of 10 students don't have consistent access to nutritious meals.
uc irvine food pantry
Credit: Courtesy of Derek De Los Angeles

At colleges across the U.S., a new facility is joining on-campus staples like the library, the student union and the football stadium… food pantries. Even a school like George Washington University, regularly ranked as one of the most expensive colleges in the country, decided to open a pantry to fight student food insecurity last year. Adding to the growing trend, yesterday, UC Irvine—part of the University of California state system where pantries are already commonplace—opened the largest food pantry in the entire ten-school network, a 1,800-square-foot store that offers not just free food but also the knowledge necessary to put it to good use.

The Fresh Basic Needs Hub, which replaces the school's previous food pantry that opened in 2015, has all the staples any student might need to make nutritious meals: baskets of fresh produce and canned, dried, refrigerated and frozen foods from rice and beans to soups and vegetable tikka masala. But the idea behind the Hub is bigger than just a grab-and-go option: It also offers its own kitchenette, cookbooks for students looking for recipe ideas and even 15 varieties of seeds for those interested in trying their hand at a little on-campus farming.

"At UCI, we are trying to set the standard for what campuses and communities around the nation should do," Thomas A. Parham, vice chancellor of student affairs, said during the ribbon cutting according to the LA Times.

At yesterday's grand opening, culinary education director Jessica Van Roo even provided some cooking demonstrations.

"If you don't know how to make food, we can show you," she explained. "You can get free food, but if you don't know how to cook, it's a struggle."

The school holds similar educational workshops during its monthly "free farmers markets." It's a novel idea in a world where, not long ago, the idea of opening a food pantry for college students was itself novel. But there's a bit of the old "give a man a fish" adage going on here: Sometimes you have to recognize the value of teaching a man to fish as well. Ironically enough, colleges have always been in the business of teaching, but apparently some things—like how to make healthy meals—may have been overlooked in the curriculum.